Monday, December 29, 2014

My Eye-Opening Experience At A Nigerian Boarding School

Doing the wash at a Nigerian boarding school.

I wanted to share a link to a post I wrote for my missions work over on another blog I've launched with the Transformational Education Network. It's an inside look at my eye-opening experience at a Nigerian boarding school. It was one of those experiences I will never forget. It's something I believe can be a call to action for those of us who follow Jesus Christ.

Check it out here: Boarding school

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The BEST Seafood Chowder Is My Christmas Present To You

We have a favorite Sabo family Christmas tradition that dates back to when the number of our kids was in the single digits, which is approximately the 2002 or 2003 time frame. It's soup. But not just any soup. This is a seafood chowder that the family looks forward to waaaaaayyyyy more than opening Christmas presents. Sort of. Maybe. Ish? Okay, so my seafood chowder takes a close second to the whole opening Christmas presents thing. But don't let that dissuade you from breaking out the heavy-bottomed stock pot and giving this seafood chowder a whirl in your kitchen. You will not be disappointed. I promise.

I found this recipe in The Oregonian and it's called "Portland Seafood Chowder." It makes 10 cups, which means I automatically double it. Or so. And I've modified it by adding more seafood to the point that basically if it swims, or crawls, or scampers, or filters in saltwater, it goes in this chowder. As a disclaimer, due to the nature of the ingredients it's an expensive soup to make. Which is why we only make it once a year. Which is also why I'm seriously considering launching separate Kickstarter and Gofundme campaigns to support our seafood chowder habit so that we can enjoy it more than once a year.

Without further ado, we give you the "Portland Seafood Chowder" recipe in all its gastronomical glory. Go forth and be a Pacific Northwest foodie aficionado.

12 oz. diced raw bacon
1 1/3 C finely diced onion
1 1/3 C finely diced carrot
1 1/3 C finely diced celery
1/2 C diced roasted red bell peppers
1 1/2 t dried dill weed
1 1/2 t dried basil
1 1/2 t dried marjoram
1 1/2 t cajun spice mix
3 T all-purpose flour
1/2 C lightly hopped ale
1 10-oz. can baby clams
2 8-oz. bottles clam juice
4 C diced raw potatoes
6 to 8 fresh mussels, scrubbed & debearded
1/4 lb. cubed firm white fish such as snapper or cod
1/4 lb. smoked salmon, flaked
1 C whipping cream
salt & pepper to taste

* Among the seafoody items I add with liberality (one of the few times in my life I'm a liberal):
crab meat
baby shrimp

In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, cook the bacon over medium-low until it is brown. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook over medium-low heat until the carrots are almost tender. Add red peppers.

Stir in the dill weed, basil, marjoram and cajun spice mix. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add the ale, the juice from the clams (reserve the drained clams for later), and the bottled clam juice. Stir until smooth and then add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the mussels, white fish, smoked salmon, reserved clams and any other additional seafood, cover and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mussels are opened and the white fish is done. Discard any mussels that do not open. Stir in the whipping cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Nigerian Experience

Things I won’t miss about Nigeria:

--Hearing the muezzin or whatever he was blaring from a nearby mosque in the pre-dawn hours. I can deal with the roosters, the car horns and anything else of a noise variety. That one alarms me, though, and the first time I heard it I thought a terrorist attack was imminent;

--Rice. Whether it’s white, or jollof, with red sauce, with beans, or in some other form, I’m ready to explore other culinary dishes;

--Driving. As near as I can tell, there are no rules to driving in Nigeria. Nor are there even guidelines, let alone suggestions. I don’t know what it takes to get a traffic ticket here, but let’s just say road cops in the USA with a monthly quota of traffic tickets to fill could get ‘er done in about an hour here. I’ve been on divided highways with a raised median and if traffic is stopped in one direction, why they just hop the curb and start driving against traffic in the oncoming lanes. Right by cops. Why is this okay? And passing is always an option, even going uphill, past a tractor-trailer on a blind corner. I feel like I cheated death on the roads for two weeks;

--Showers. Picture a faucet, a small bucket and cold water. You’re feeling my pain. Like any spoiled American, I like my showers long and hot. The struggle is real, man;

--Electricity that constantly fluctuates. It’s worse than being in a relationship with Taylor Swift – the power is on again, off again. On again, off again. On, off. It makes it really hard to recharge my cell phone. Oh, the horror of it!

--Vivid dreams. I suspect it’s the anti-malarial meds I’m taking, but man have I had some vivid dreams. They’re the kinds often that make you wake up with a start and you can’t get back to sleep … then the muezzin fires up. Last night I had a dream I inherited some very valuable books in a very finely crafted wood bureau and had to get them from New York to Boston without anyone knowing it or else something really bad was going to happen to my family.  Oops … now everyone knows it;

Things I will miss in Nigeria:

--The weather. Hot, dry days in the 80s and cool nights in the 50s. It’s like summer in Central Oregon. Perfect;

--An Arabic shawarma from Jam’s, a little hole-in-the-wall eatery over by one of the other missionary compounds. Chicken, garlic, pickles, salad and a couple of other things wrapped inside a tortilla-like thing. Oh, the joys of a Jam’s shawarma!

--The sights. Every day you see something that blows your mind. Take, for example, the cargo on a motorbike, to include masses of humanity, livestock, goods such as firewood, or all of the above. Just when you thought it was not humanly possible to pack more onto a motorbike, you see more;

--The people. So friendly. I made many friends here and made them quite easily. One of the things that tickles me is how often they say, “Welcome, sir.” I’ll meet someone and greet them and they’ll reply, “Welcome, sir. Thank you, sir. Welcome, sir.”

--The children. Universally polite and friendly, if not somewhat surprised and curious at times to see a white guy. I will never forget the look on the kids’ faces when I took their photo and turned the camera around and showed them the digital copy. Priceless. I believe for many of them it was the first time they had seen their own picture. Their faces were a thousand words;

--The faith of my fellow Christians. You can hear it in the prayers. It’s a deep, profound trust and love of God that I imagine comes in part in a place where life is truly fragile. In the course of five days earlier on my trip I was with three people while they received word that someone close to them had died unexpectedly. There are no guarantees here and life is hard, very hard. The one thing you can trust is God’s love and the hope we have in His son, Jesus Christ. I have a great love and admiration for the people I’ve met here. God bless you all. I’ll miss you and look forward to seeing you again.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thoughts On Being Caught Behind A Muslim Horse Parade And Faith

Eric Black with some of his students and staff

Nigeria can be enchanting and confounding, often at the same moment. I was returning to Jos from Biliri in Gombe State in northeastern Nigeria, riding shotgun in a pickup driven by fellow Serving In Mission missionary Mark Redekop, when horsemen appeared. Not just any horsemen either. These were elaborately clothed Muslim horsemen, somewhere around 40 of them, parading through the main thoroughfare of the city of Bauchi.
Trotting to a steady beat of drums, the Muslim men drew scores of onlookers in the Islamic city. We crawled along in the scrum of people and kids cheating death by flitting across the highway. Battered cars and trucks, drivers leaning into their horns with gusto, jockeyed for position. Motorcycles with passengers aboard – I saw one motorbike on the highway in the Nigerian bush with a man and six boys on it -- spewing thick exhaust and darting through traffic and horses, sometimes into the oncoming lanes. Three-wheeled motorized buggies that serve as taxis sped around us and between the horsemen. As near as I could tell, there had been no warning of a parade, perhaps because in the current state of affairs in Nigeria events like this might attract terrorists from Boko Haram. The Islamic insurgents do not discern between Muslim or Christian targets; the day before in the city of Kano scores of Muslims were slaughtered in a Boko Haram bomb blast and shooting timed for the afternoon prayers. Other times they target Christians, particularly churches and bombings and massacres are not uncommon here in the north of Nigeria.

We squinted into the low late afternoon sun at the horsemen ahead of us, fruitlessly hoping to see the display of horsemanship conclude. I later learned it was apparently something along the lines of a “Durbar” parade. These are events unique to Nigeria that commemorate the days past when guards in magnificently colored and adorned robes and turbans and armed with swords would travel on horseback in protection of the Muslim emir. I asked a Nigerian about the men and was told that back in the day if there was trouble or some sort of aggressiveness or violence directed toward the emir, the horsemen would “slaughter you.” I believe the tradition of emir protection has passed. At least I hope it has, but you never know and I rather furtively snapped some photos and video on my iPhone.

We eventually passed through Bauchi safely, perhaps culturally enriched but deprived of precious daylight. You don’t want to travel Nigerian roads at night because motorists have little regard for traffic rules – I wouldn’t’ even call simple rules such as driving on the right even guidelines or suggestions -- and deadly accidents are the norm. The delay meant darkness loomed, a harrowing thought as we passed the hulk of a smashed up truck that had recently hit something head-on. “That couldn’t have been good for the driver,” Mark said. As we traveled west toward the setting sun, dodging goats, cattle, oncoming motorists and people, we passed through a predominantly Muslim village. Inside a small mosque I glimpsed a man in a flowing white robe bowing toward Mecca, his forehead pressed to the floor.
The oppressive poverty and hopelessness is overwhelming in Nigeria, as well as the rest of Africa. Every day is a struggle. I’ve talked to many young people here and hope of a better is elusive. There’s a resignation to a hard life. Many have asked me to take them back to America, one smiling young man offering to stow away in one of my bags.

But in my talks there’s been one consistent glimmer of hope. In Jos and in Biliri there’s a hope in Jesus Christ. The hope springs from a deep abiding faith in Jesus, a trust forged through perseverance and an understanding that to suffer is to walk alongside Jesus. Peter writes that various trials test our faith, acting as a purifier the way heating gold to melt it filters out the impurities, resulting in something much more precious. The result is “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” Peter writes.

Out in Biliri at a school started by American missionary Eric Black, who uses our Transformational Education Network computer outreach curriculum, I met a young man named Gideon as he was about to lead a group of students on an outreach. Just before they squeezed into a van bursting with people, luggage, musical instruments and Bibles, Gideon gathered the group in front of the school for a brief message. “If you really love Jesus with all of your life,” he said in his accented English, “then sacrifice your life to live for Him. Whatever it may cost you to live a righteous life, then do it.” Then he paused, looking intently at the students. “For that is a great, great gain.”
Gideon described how the journey to a distant city would be tough, the devil doubling his efforts because he knows who he is up against. “Put on all of your armors,” he said. Then he challenged the students.

“As we go out on outreach, if you’re passionate for Jesus then go out and preach the word,” Gideon said. “If you are not then I will advise you that you will stay back home. The place we are going we are really taking the message of love. The message of peace. The message of unity. Some will say that it is like we are going on vacation. That is not what we are going for. So be ready to lay down your life, whatever it may cost. It cost Jesus His life to bring you back. So be willing to lay down your life.”

He closed by telling the students that in whatever persecutions they face, to endure them without complaining. He told them that he loved them and that his prayer is that as they head out from the school they would transform the world.

My prayers are with them. As I left Biliri on Saturday afternoon with Mark and two Nigerian passengers seated behind us in the pickup, I thought back to Gideon and the students at Biliri Educational Center. It called to mind one of my favorite scriptures. It is Isaiah 9:2 and it speaks of Jesus Christ, the Messiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”
In my travels through Nigeria over the past week, I have seen this verse played out. Despite the crushing poverty, the daily struggle simply to put food on the table and the lack of opportunities such as education and jobs, there’s something different in the lives of many of the young people like Gideon I’ve encountered. The difference is the illuminating light of Jesus Christ in their lives. They believe a better life awaits, and it may not even be on this earth. They are passionate about their faith, intent on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and believing that Jesus elevates lives. I believe there is hope in Nigeria.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Transformational Thanksgiving in Nigeria

It is the wee hours of Thanksgiving in America, but here at 7:30 a.m. Jos, Nigeria, I am chugging a bottle of “F.A.M. Vita” vanilla yoghurt in a dark guest house room without power. The pervasive, acrid smell of campfire smoke – people still cook with fire here and you can drive down the street and see garbage burning – lingers with me, as always. Outside my open window I can hear the noise of the bustling city: cars and three-wheel motorized buggies zipping down the street, horns honking, people talking and someone on an air horn announcing something. I am thankful.

I am here on a mission trip with the Transformational Education Network. I have traveled with our CEO, Joe Gallop, who presented at a symposium yesterday and discussed technology and transformational education. More than 100 educators and students attended and both Joe and I are very pleased with how things went. The Lord truly blessed it and I met a young man with a communications degree who I hope will help me with gathering photos, video and stories from here in Jos at the school we partner with, E.I.C.T. that I can use in my TEN3 communications.
Today we will be attending a workshop where Joe will speak on “Essential Values in Transformational Education.” It’s the first of a two-day workshop and we are looking forward to seeing what the Lord will do today. Yesterday went very well and we were able to connect with a number of educators interested in the Transformational Education Network curriculum and our method of education. One of the things that appears to be coming out of this trip is forming a network of schools – private, government and others – that can act as a forum and exchange of information, ideas and solutions to help achieve transformational education. Our role will be as facilitators and advisors and we will be working on how best to accomplish this exchange of information.

Tomorrow I will be traveling several hours with an American missionary named Eric Black to his post in Billiri in Gombe State. I should say that Lord willing, I will go. I have to check with the SIM security director to discuss whether I should go due to concerns about safety in that area. I think everything will be fine and it will be good to travel with Eric, meet his family and learn about the education center he is operating in Billiri.

After I return, probably on Monday, Joe and I will be traveling to the communities of Zonkwa, Kwoi and Kubacha (I think I got those right) southwest of Jos in the neighboring state of Kaduna to explore the potential for launching TEN3 computer training outreach programs. We also were invited by one of the educators at the symposium to visit her private secondary school here in Jos, so it looks like we will be heading over there as well.

As for my general experience here in Nigeria, I have to say I have met some wonderful people. They are universally friendly to me, greeting me with big grins. Whenever we exchange greetings people often reply with “Welcome sir. Thank you sir. Welcome sir.” It makes me smile. The traffic is crazy, the police are everywhere and they carry AK-47s. It’s the dry season here on the Nigerian Plateau so it’s dusty, hot during the day in the 80s (I’m not complaining!) and cool in the night down to the 50s.

On the 4-hour plus drive Monday morning up to Jos from Abuja, where we landed Sunday evening and spent the night, we traveled through at least a half-dozen and probably closer to 10, military checkpoints. Soldiers with AK-47s manned the checkpoints, I’m assuming because the area has seen its share of Muslim-Christian conflict. Boko Haram, the Muslim terrorist group, operates in the area occasionally and more than 100 people were killed earlier this year when they set off bombs in the bustling outdoor market that’s several blocks from the compound where we are staying here in Jos. Mostly we were just waved through the checkpoints, though a few stopped us simply to chat, it seems. One engaged us in conversation and our driver, Audu, asked the soldier if he was born again. We talked about being born again, Jesus, salvation and he said he was born again. He was quite offended we didn’t have our Bibles with us in the car – they were in our luggage in the back. I’m glad he didn’t shoot us. (Just kidding!) At another checkpoint a soldier asked Joe and me where we were from. When he found out we were Americans he said he wants to go there someday. What he really wanted, though, was for us to bring him a white American wife. I told him I could see what I could do and maybe make that happen. He got a big grin and then reached in the car and we “pounded” fists. It’s the first time I’ve ever pounded fists with an AK-47-toting Nigerian soldier manning a highway checkpoint. I have to admit it was a pretty special moment.
I have many more stories to tell, but we’ll save those for other times. Blessings to you all this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Adventures in Parenting, Vol. 1. `Hey Dad. Where Are You?'

Let's see...a Taco Bell run or this sunset?

Do you ever get to a late Sunday afternoon, take stock of your life, check your mutual funds, contemplate the meaning of life, wonder if anyone working on Wall Street who engaged in shady mortgage fraud and insider trading deals has a soul ... and weigh whether it's worth it to cook dinner?

There's something about fixing Sunday night dinner that I find particularly agitating. Even daunting, repulsive and annoying. And I'm a dude who loves to cook. I can't put my finger on exactly why I don't like to cook on Sundays. After shedding my pastor duties after church I tend to "check out." You might find me in the garage piddling around making a coffee table. Sometimes I nap. I might take a jaunt to the store and act like I'm shopping for the week's meals and blow it all on ice cream and non-essentials like fancy coffee creamer and crazy cheeses made in Holland. Does this make me a bad person?

I mean, I'm usually a pretty good guy. I recycle. I put my shopping cart in the cart corral in the parking lot instead of in the space next to the van, even in hard rains. I clean up the lint screen in the dryer. I yield in the traffic roundabout and stop for pedestrians trying to enter crosswalks. I buy Julie raspberries because I know she loves them even though they're really expensive this time of year. Really expensive like cheeses made in Holland.

So we got to Sunday afternoon just before 5 p.m. and there were all these kids looking really, really hungry. The thought actually crossed my mind to cook something. The other thought I had was that they wouldn't starve if they didn't have dinner. I mean, we have bread and peanut butter in the house. But then I'm not going to eat a p.b. & j sandwich for dinner ... so I was faced with what's known as a "parental dilemma." You know the one. Where you have to decide if it's in the best interests of your family to eat at Hardee's or Taco Bell. I had a hankering for a burrito so the choice was fairly easy.

I got the lowdown from everyone of what they wanted from Taco Bell, loaded Seth in the van and took off down the street ... except I glanced at the sky and it was on fire. It's a three-block run down to the beach from my house and my intention was that I would race down there while obeying all traffic laws, snap a sunset photo and then get to Taco Bell before my children suffered privation leading to acute starvation and other health-related issues.

I got to the beach, told Seth to sit tight, ran out to the shoreline, snapped a photo and ran back to the van. Piece of cake. Except I knew that the show was just beginning. It would be a monumental sunset because literally the sky was aflame ... so I fetched Seth out of the van and we frolicked on the beach while I documented our interlude via my iPhone. Yes, I had total disregard for the well-being of my family. Yes, I got a phone call from someone high up in the Sabo household who was surprised to learn I had not even made it out of the neighborhood.

But I got some killer clicks.

Seth gets photo-bombed by the sunset.

Ultimately, I made it to Taco Bell. No one in the Sabo house had starved. They appeared perplexed at how long it took for me to make a Taco Bell run considering it's literally a few minutes away. But hey, boy did Seth and I make some remembories, as Evie used to say when she was a little girl.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Driving Through A Traffic Circle Is Easy. Or Not.

You probably didn't know this, but Gloucester is home to one of the great mysteries of the universe. No, it doesn't involve the 17th century grave site of America's original revolutionary, Nathaniel Bacon, which has mysteriously eluded discovery for more than 300 years. Neither does it involve the origins of the native residents of Guinea down in Gloucester's swampy southeastern peninsula, a legend of multiple explanations that includes vague references to descendants of Revolutionary War-era mercenaries hired by the British who stuck around by hiding out in Gloucester after the 1781 surrender at Yorktown. Rather, the great cosmic mystery in Gloucester is something that confounds hundreds, possibly thousands of people each and every day.

It's negotiating the traffic circle, or roundabout ,at the "Wal-Mart intersection."

Say you want to live on the edge and literally gulp down adrenalin by the bucketful. Why, you would be wise to try and traverse the roundabout several times. You would cheat death. You would have to have your car insurance agent on speed dial. You would wonder how something seemingly so simple flummoxes motorists who apparently either can't read a "Yield" sign or just plain don't care.

Let's review the rules and regulations of traffic roundabout etiquette. Surely it must be a manual on the order of "War and Peace." Right? I mean these things are complicated, right?

Um, no. The operative word is "yield." Apparently people don't know what the word means because everybody I know has a "Wal-Mart roundabout" horror story. Or two. Or a million.

One time I was meandering through the roundabout when a young kid in a jacked up pickup barreled in, nearly making my old Volvo four-door sedan a hatchback. I laid on the horn, rather liberally I might add. We were both heading the same way coming out of the roundabout and he stopped in the middle of the road's right-hand lane in front of Chick-fil-A and gestured to me. I pulled up next to him and with the passenger's window down and politely informed him that he was supposed to yield to the vehicle in the roundabout. Which would be me in my Volvo.

He informed me in rather colorful terms that I was supposed to yield to him. I hesitated before replying that the "Yield" sign was directed at the vehicles entering the roundabout, which he clearly was. For example, if you approach an intersection and there is a stop sign that you can clearly read on the side of the road to your right, I'm pretty sure that means you are supposed to stop. It would not be a stop sign for the cross traffic, in other words. In this case, the "Yield" sign is facing traffic approaching the roundabout -- not the traffic in the roundabout -- and is on the right hand side in clear, even plain view. Which motorists should take to mean that they better yield.

Except for the young buck in the pickup who, in even more colorful terms, disagreed with my sign-reading suggestion and thought it would be a good idea for us to pull in the Chick-fil-A parking lot to settle things. Needless to say I proceeded on to Wal-Mart while he simmered in his road rage over a chicken sandwich.

So here's the deal Gloucester drivers and motorists who wander in and have nearly hit me from locales far and wide, such as Maryland or North Carolina: If someone is in the roundabout, they have the right-of-way. It's that simple! As you approach the roundabout, from any direction, slow down, observe the traffic that may be in the roundabout and then proceed into it when you have an opening of appropriate length. Traversing the roundabout shouldn't be the equivalent of a shark circling its prey, because that's how it feels sometimes when you are in the roundabout.

For a glimpse of a street-view of our famed roundabout, here's a link: Roundabout o' death

Monday, November 3, 2014

Parenting Hazards 101: Tiptoeing Through The Toys

The parental equivalent of walking on hot coals.

I think I may need surgery. For the millionth time I have stepped on a toy, causing what I perceive to be irreparable damage to my foot. You would think after 25 years of stepping on 14 kids' millions or billions of toys I would have learned my lesson and taken proper protective measures. Yes, that's right. I should be walking through my house with steel-toed boots. It's every parent's nightmare: You are walking along engaged in something else -- say an iPhone where you are stalking someone on Facebook checking the weather or catching up on the stock markets in Asia -- and you make that fateful step.

A Lego.

A Thomas the Tank train engine.

A Barbie dolly's high heel.

A Lightning McQueen race car.

A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

A toy gun, a Paw Patrol ATV, a Planes "Dusty" airplane, a dress up high heel, a toy earring, any of a thousand different action figures, a toy fork, a Mr. Potato Head nose, a trophy from the youth soccer team, a battery, a light saber, a building block ... I think you get the idea.

I believe if I were to go under the knife a surgeon might find tiny fragments of toys embedded in my feet. Who knows, a surgeon might find enough Legos to make a house.

I bet if upon my demise I were to be mummified, a couple of thousand years from now archaeologists who would stumble upon my remains would puzzle over the collection of tiny plastic building block type things that appeared to have been deposited in the soles of my feet. I envision someone obtaining a Ph.D. writing a paper ascertaining the meaning behind it.

It's one of the great hazards of parenting. Every day we run the gauntlet of toys on the floor, hoping -- praying -- we won't take that fateful step. Of great concern is the nighttime "walk of death." Anyone with hardwood floors knows what I'm talking about. You are on your way to the bathroom in the dark of night, tiptoeing past the kids' bedroom to not wake up the baby and then it happens: You have stepped on Lightning McQueen and it's like they've dropped the green flag at a NASCAR race. The car slips out from underneath you and you are literally flying through the air, half-awake and trying to contain your bladder, and knowing that above all you cannot utter a single sound for fear of waking the baby and you land not just with a bone-crunching thud, but right on top of Luigi, Guido, Mater, Sally, Sarge and Fillmore, who are now embedded, possibly permanently, in your backside. Some people get tattoos. Parents get toys affixed to their bodies, though not by choice. Above all, remember you cannot utter a sound. You must suffer in silence.

When I see a parent limping, my mind automatically thinks, "Oof. That looks serious. Bet they stepped on a Lego." Short of getting rid of all the toys in the house -- I've thought of that more than once -- I don't know how to properly take preventive measures. Other than checking online with the iPhone for deals on steel-toed boots. During which I nearly broke my foot stepping on Thomas the Tank while on my way to fetch my credit card.

Friday, October 31, 2014

When Ebola Strikes The Community: 15 Funerals A Day

Three orphans from a Sierra Leone family, led by a boy who is 17.

I confess, it was a hard day for me. It's one of those days I've been through before with Julie. A trip to the hospital for a surgical procedure after a tiny beating heart inside her was silenced for reasons that remain a mystery. Just two weeks ago that tiny heart beat strong. Then some bleeding, a trip to the doctor and a weaker beating heart. Then later, more bleeding and a devastating silence. We've been blessed abundantly, 14 times to be exact. We've held and caressed all the tiny little babies, each time with inexpressible joy. I've gazed mostly through tear-stained eyes at the new little miracle in my hands, always thankful for this perfect life I'm holding and equally relieved that Julie's ordeal has passed. I wonder as I hold the infant about the new life that's being forged ahead of us, how it's a birth of new dreams and hopes and above all else, love. A deep, abiding love.

Julie and I have been through mornings like this one five times. Each different, some much more difficult than others. None of them easy. I guess I endure a silent mourning, some sort of brave face. Things get bottled up inside and I imagine it's not healthy. I don't know. It's a flawed coping method, I recognize that. Anyway, I walked around the hospital grounds in Williamsburg this morning while Julie was in surgery and I found this fiery red maple leaf on the ground. It was strikingly beautiful and the thought crossed my mind that its beauty was perfected in its death. A thousand leaves had tumbled to the ground around it yet that one stunning leaf nestled among the mulch caught my eye. I snapped a photo and I would imagine it's burnished into my memory forever. I don't pretend to understand the hows and whys of mornings like this one, except that I know that it is God's will for us. That's where I rest and that's where I find peace.

And then amidst my personal struggles I get emails like these. From a man I've never met in person -- we connected from thousands of miles away through my missions work -- whose faith is tested every minute, every second. Rev. Samuel Kargbo is awash in a sea of death in Sierra Leone, a thousand lives around him at the mercy of a vicious disease. Ebola has cut a harvest of death through his neighborhood, his city, his country. "We see the number of deaths increasing by the day and fear is generated in us, except that we have the inner man to strengthen us," Kargbo writes.

The fear is so palpable that people are afraid to go to the hospital when they are sickened, for fear that they will be diagnosed with Ebola, he writes. "This tells you the other reason for the death of many people during this period. That is part of our responsibility to educate and sensitize people to go to the hospital."

If you look closely at the photo at the top of this post, behind the three orphans who sought food to carry them through the day, you will see a lady on the ground behind them. She has lost 13 members of her family. "It is only three of them that are surviving," Kargbo writes. "The lady lying down has not escaped the danger."

For Kargbo, death surrounds him. The nearest cemetery to his community is burying 15 people a day. "We do feel the terror of death hovering, but we are covered by the wings of our Lord," Kargbo writes. "Despite the numerous deaths, we are presently engaged in reaching out with love to the community, especially addressing the needs of the orphans."

A grandchild of his has a cough and running nose. His youngest daughter complains of general body pains and his family is taking precautions to not touch her. "With the first aid treatment, if she does not show improvement after three days, we will be left with no option but to get her to report to the hospital," Kargbo writes.

His emails are a window into a suffering I'm not familiar with and Lord willing never will be. I don't say that his words give me perspective on any grief I may be experiencing because what he has to say doesn't necessarily diminish what pain I feel. What I do know is that I have an overwhelming sense of empathy for Rev. Samuel Kargbo, his family and the people of Sierra Leone and surrounding countries. I can't fathom the fear, helplessness, weariness and host of other emotions he must experience every moment. Yet it's abundantly clear that this man has a deep, abiding faith in God that's unshakable. The fires of Ebola have forged an immovable faith. I am awestruck by it. I pray that God moves to contain this disease. I ask you to pray as well. So often as the world implodes around us, that's all we can do. 

"Once more," Kargbo writes, "I say many thanks for your prayers. We surely need those prayers."

"Once more," Kargbo writes, "I say many thanks for your prayers. We surely need those prayers."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When Everything Is Right In The World

Striking a pose

It was Tuesday night and it was five of my boys and me. Again. The ladies of the Sabo house were off to women's Bible study, two kids were at soccer practice, one was at work and so it was the lads' night out. We made a quick stop at the True Value hardware store to pick up some supplies for my new found DIY woodworking projects and then headed for the beach at Gloucester Point. These lovely fall evenings (note the lads are in shorts & t-shirts and it's late October) are too alluring, too perfect not to enjoy with one of the last romps at the beach.

When we arrived down at the pier that juts out into the York River (you don't need a license to fish from the pier, which means fishing is better in Gloucester) the boys started hamming it up and I snapped some photos. Then we noticed lots of people with cameras around. A kindly gentleman ambling out the pier informed us that an Antares rocket was supposed to take off from the Eastern Shore and we should be able to watch it blast into orbit from the pier. It was 6:15 p.m. Lift off into the October sky was scheduled for 6:22 p.m.

Heading out for a better view of the rocket launch

News that we would watch a real-life rocket launch caused quite a stir among the Sabo boys. This was more than we bargained for. Are you kidding? This was really good news. Like, really good. You go to the beach trying to kill some time and you're going to watch a rocket streak into the night? For reals? Dude. From Gloucester Point to the launch site on the Eastern Shore of Virginia at Wallops Island, as the rocket crow flies, is about 70 miles -- it's double that by car -- so supposedly we would have a real good view from a safe distance.

I was armed with two cameras -- my iPhone5C and my Canon T5i -- and was really stoked to try the time-lapse feature on my iPhone. I figured that would be killer for a rocket launch. As we waited at the end of the pier, we encountered one variable that threatened to derail my photography efforts. Seth seemed intent on seeing if the water was still warm and kept leaning through the rails, even as Gabe wore him like a straitjacket. In the interest of safety I reluctantly herded my gaggle of Sabos back onto the beach. We still had an unobstructed view out over Chesapeake Bay where the rocket was allegedly going to streak into the nearly cloudless indigo twilight, but better yet, if Seth was intent on taking a dip at least we could fish him out before he got in way over his head.

It was 6:21. Seth was getting wet and was covered in sand, the four other boys were having races up and down the beach and some people behind us were getting the play-by-play of the rocket launch over some sort of hand-held device. It wasn't a Walkman, I know that. I was focused on the eastern horizon with my two cameras -- in between preventing Seth from becoming a mini-Jacques Cousteau. The people behind us, a mom and dad and two kids, started the countdown. The four Sabo boys slowed down then stopped to watch, their labored breaths mixing with the sound of the river washing ashore in tiny waves. Seth eyed the water.

Houston, we are ready for the rocket launch

The voices behind us got louder as the countdown got closer to one: "...three, Two, ONE! LIFTOFF!" We scanned the horizon, squinting intensely. My cameras were focused. I was prepared to blow up social media with our rocket photopallooza. We watched. We watched harder. Seth headed for the water before Gabe rassled him ashore despite his sharp protestations. And then we watched some more ... and then the cry from the dad behind us: "It exploded!" The boys looked at me. I shrugged. The boys went back to racing. Seth headed for the water.

I'm not going to lie. I was pretty bummed. I've never seen a rocket launch live, even from 70 miles away. The evening had taken an unexpected turn. It veered hard from your run-of-the-mill, ho-hum evening at the beach with five boys -- three, count them three, couples we encountered looked on in amazement at the collection of Sabos and remarked how full my hands were ... if only they knew -- into tantalizing excitement territory. I guess I shouldn't really be disappointed because just minutes earlier I had no idea I could have seen a rocket launch. But when the unexpected becomes even a glimmer of reality, only to literally crash to earth, there's still a sense of loss.

I've thought about this all day, actually. When the unexpected roars into your life, only to vanish seemingly as quickly. I won't go into details, but I feel a sense of personal loss on a completely different level. There was something unexpected that happened in our lives, only to be taken away. There's hurt, there's pain. It's not fun. I'm sad. I guess that's the best way to put it. Just sad. It's nights like these that I like to wander in to where our youngest is sleeping, in this case Seth. So peaceful. So beautiful. So perfect. Such a gift from God. I like to hear him breathe. I'll stand there and watch, listening to him breathe and for a little while everything is right in the world.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Three Things I've Learned When I Feed My Creative Juices

The ruins of Rosewell

Over the past year I have been shooting a lot of photos from around Gloucester. It began when I started using my iPhone as a camera. I also have a Canon T5i that gets lugged around the county to snap shots of sunsets, landscapes and landmarks. And kids. Plenty of kids. Here's three things that I've discovered about what happened when I started shooting photos and the surprising things that resulted when I launched a new creative passion.

1) What you will find when you take the time to get out in nature will surprise you.  

I started shooting photos after getting on Instagram and fighting a sense of inadequacy. I have friends out in Oregon who were posting these amazing landscape shots -- majestic snow-capped mountains and rushing rivers and desert sunrises -- and I felt like I had to compete somehow. But how? We have no mountains here -- the highest point here  is like 60 or 80 feet above sea level, unless you count the 90 feet height of the Coleman Bridge as you enter Gloucester -- our rivers are amazingly wide but languid and the closest desert is thousands of miles away. So I started exploring. Living on a peninsula has its advantages. The sunsrises and sunsets on the rivers are spectacular. The trees and foliage tell stories. The frequent storms usher in extraordinary cloud formations that refract light in stunning ways and are enhanced when they are reflected off the water. There are hidden treasures and gems off the beaten path; historic homes and crumbling plantations and weathered houses. I've learned a ton about watching sunsets and the timing of the most glorious light. You'll be surprised. You'll be amazed. Your life will be enriched when you get out there.

Boats in a Gloucester marina

2) Exploring creativity opens paths of more creativity.

When I started shooting photos and thinking about settings, sunlight, natural light, reflections, angles and other aspects of photography, I've found it started opening doors to other creative avenues in my life. By no means am I an accomplished photographer. I want to make that clear. I have friends who are professional photographers and it's a huge leap from what I do to what they do amazingly well. But in my own little way I'm exploring something new and trying to stumble through learning a craft. Perhaps it's the time I'm taking to appreciate the scenery God has given us in this little corner of the world that is spurring other creative juices. Whether it's dabbling in making videos, writing, woodworking and making a coffee table out of 60-year-old reclaimed hardwood flooring, I've found that creativity feeds creativity. There's just something that happens when you start stimulating your brain in new ways. Challenge yourself. Take the time to find something new to take on. You'll be surprised.

3) You will feel, and be, blessed.

Being out in nature has renewed my love of God's creation. He's made so many beautiful places and we all should spend more time enjoying them. It's also been a time for me to meditate on God's word, to pray, and to think about how richly God has blessed me. The other night when I had five of my boys down on the pier at the beach in this lovely, peaceful setting was one of those times. We made a memory and those last forever. There are times I've looked up in the sky near sunset and saw the clouds and the way the light is arcing through the sky and told Julie or some of my kids to get in the van because we're heading down to the river to enjoy the sunset. As I've worked on my coffee table I've been able to listen to sermons from pastors and I've thought deeply about what He's doing in my life and where He's taking me and how I need to yield more to His will in my life. Creative time can be periods of slowing down, assessing and reflecting. I experience a recalibration, a deeper understanding of what's valuable. First and foremost of value to me is my relationship with God and the eternal gift He has given us of His son Jesus. My family is a gift from God. What I experience, all of it, is a gift. I am thankful. I am blessed. 

Finally, here's a link to a collection of photos I've taken from around Gloucester that I assembled in a video. The music is kind of cheesy ... oh well. Enjoy.  Gloucester vignette

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When Times Are Tough, Head To The Water

Gabe & Seth on the pier.

Yesterday evening was one of those days. I had a ton of things I wanted to get done and nothing was getting done. You ever had that feeling? Things were going way south attitude wise for me and so I loaded into the van the five boys who were left with me after everyone had dispersed to soccer practice, Bible study (for the ladies) and work. At first I had no clue where to go. The sun had just set but it was a beautiful evening, still 70 degrees.

We headed down to Gloucester Point beach. It's a five-minute drive and we walked on the pier until the wind kicked up enough to prompt shivers. It was lovely. Peaceful. Beautiful. Seth was enchanted by the water. As he trundled back across the beach the waves kicked up and crashed onto shore from a passing boat that sped by. He paused, watching and listening to the commotion and I could see him trying to figure it all out.

I grew up in the Oregon High Desert. Where the sagebrush and open range meet the piney slopes of the eastern Cascades Range. Snow melt water flows icy cold off of the mountains and is a precious commodity where I'm from in Oregon. The rivers are narrow enough to easily throw a rock across them.

Out here on the Middle Peninsula, we're surrounded by water. Big saltwater rivers that yield bountiful catches of crabs and oysters and fish. The sun rises and falls spectacularly across the rivers here. The white sandy beaches are play spots and we're close enough to the neighborhood beach on the York River that the kids can load up the wagon with buckets and nets and head down to the river to fish out minnows and crabs from the inlet that meanders inland.

I love the desert. I love the solitude, how the sky is so blue, how it's filled with a million bright stars at night and how you can see forever. I miss it. But I've been out here for a decade and remain enchanted by the water that surrounds us. If I ever were to leave, I know one thing. I would miss it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lost In The Corn Maze (Dad, Hand Over The Map)

This sums up what happens when you give me the map in a corn maze.

Corn mazes are lots of fun. I mean, a ton of fun. Unless you're the guy entrusted with the map and what's supposed to be a rather short jaunt through the corn field turns into a survival of the fittest, we're this close to calling 911, we could eat this corn for dinner if we have to, all-day endurance test down at the farm.

Typically a corn maze involves a nice walk -- a pleasant stroll even -- through the corn field that entails reading a map and following the hints posted at signs along the way. It's a good time and a chance to die a slow, painful death bond with the family in a farm-type of environment.

My folks were in town so we decided in between Saturday soccer matches to take in some of the local entertainment. Naturally we hit the corn maze and armed ourselves with maps and a collection of long PVC pipes with flags attached that you could hold up in an act of surrender (but which we were positive we would never, ever need to use) to prompt your friendly corn maze attendant to guide you out.

We embarked with nine Sabo children and, um, just a minute ... let's see we took nine kids ... we brought nine kids back, right? I mean, we didn't like lose one in there, right? There's not a shivering Sabo kid in the corn maze at this moment gnawing on corn cobs trying to find his way out of the 8-acre (or is it 800-acre?) maze, right? Juuuulllliiiieeeeeee!!! How many kids are in the house? Yes, right now! Does that include Ezra? Ok, thanks babe. What's that Julie? Why do I want to know how many kids are in the house? Oh, no big deal. Nothing. Just making sure no one was playing outside or anything. Yes, I know it's almost midnight ...

Anyway, we took nine kids to the corn maze and most importantly, we had a good time we survived and brought everyone back. Yes, they may have been exhausted when we finally stumbled out skipped out of the 8 million acres of corn and made a beeline for the bottled water. And yes, I finally had to admit that we needed to ask the friendly corn maze attendant how to "exit" the corn maze. (We only passed him three times. Each time I was positive I knew the way out.) And yes, my kids refuse to eat corn right now.

But what a memory, eh? And hey, I can't wait to do it again next year!

To see the Sabos in action in the corn maze, check out this 1-minute video that recaps all the excitement:  Lost in the corn maze

Friday, October 17, 2014

Repurposed: Of Coffee Tables And Lives

My woodworking work is a work in progress.

For the past few weeks I've taken on a project that is challenging me in ways I'm not used to being challenged. I'm dabbling in woodworking and making a coffee table -- that you see above -- out of 50-year-old white oak wood flooring we yanked out of our kitchen during a remodel. I'm not sure what got into me. I'm partly blaming Pinterest. Yes, Pinterest. I saw some things on there involving creative uses of reclaimed wood that caught my eye and thought, "I could do that."

Or could I?

We shall see.

I came up with this idea to stain the old tongue and groove hardwood flooring different hues before reassembling it into a table. Perhaps the fact that I rendered our previous coffee table virtually irreparable during our last move has something to do with it. Perhaps a few stresses of life contributed. For example, with 13 people living in a 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home, certain stresses can arise. Just think about the meals for a moment. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner involves 13 meals. That's 39 per day, or 273 per week, without including the obligatory snacking that goes on. Does that sound like a lot? Imagine that level of meal planning ... interested in becoming our chef? Imagine that level of dish washing ... come to our house to practice dish washing and you'll leave with a Ph.D. So yeah, maybe I needed a creative outlet for something that didn't involve cooking 4,732 dinners over the course of a year.

So naturally to unwind and get my creative juices flowing I decided to manufacture a coffee table out of the old hardwood flooring in our kitchen. As you can see, I am well on my way. Truly, I am not sure what got into me to tackle this. I've dabbled in woodworking over the years as part of our various home remodels. From crown molding on cabinets, to manufacturing an entertainment center, to a fireplace mantel, I've tackled a few projects that involve wood, nail guns, wood glue, a table saw and a compound miter saw. Nothing along the lines of this, though. Here's what I love about it, though. I'm taking these old, tired, worn down pieces of wood and breathing new life into them in an altogether new life and purpose. This project is coaxing a fresh, striking vibrancy out of the pallid and listless. Hmmmm. Maybe it's just me, but this project has the makings of a metaphor. Followers of Jesus Christ know what I'm talking about, eh?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Three Things Daily Bible Reading Teaches Your Kids

Madeline leads worship during a recent Calvary Chapel Gloucester baptism.

Way back in 1992 in the dusty eastern Oregon border town of Ontario, we stumbled upon Calvary Chapel. We loved the church and found it refreshing that the key element was the Bible and teaching through it verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. Over the years we have attended or visited many Calvary Chapels. Now I pastor a Calvary Chapel and our family is very involved in the church, with Brenton the assistant pastor and other Sabos at various times leading worship, teaching in children's ministry, leading Bible studies and serving in other capacities.

One of the primary distinctives of Calvary Chapel is its emphasis on the Bible. We hold the Bible in high regard and consider it required reading around the Sabo house. Although we don't "make" any of our kids read the Bible daily, I know that those of the reading age take the time pretty much daily to read it. I was talking to Brenton about this earlier tonight to get his thoughts on why it's important for youth to read the Bible and what it teaches them. Here's a few thoughts.

1) Reading the Bible daily teaches discipline. The Christian life is one of discipline. Prayer, Bible reading, worship and meditating on God's word are all disciplines that separate the casual believer from one who is fervently following Jesus. It blesses me so much to see my children, even as young as elementary school age, reading the Bible daily right before bed, or in the morning when they first get up. No one asks them to do it, but they see examples set by their parents and older siblings. Being in the Word from a young age will mature them beyond their years and they will learn a discipline that is a vital part of their faith. The maturity in faith that comes from reading and knowing the Bible will extend to other areas of their lives and you will see them own their faith in Jesus from a young age.

2) Reading the Bible daily makes God's Word come alive. More than simply knowing the stories and characters of the Bible, devotional reading helps youth understand how God's Word is alive and applies to their life today. They can see how God worked through history as part of His plan to bless and save humanity through His Son and they can translate that to God working in their own lives. If they see God working in their lives, they believe He has a purpose for their lives and will be able to navigate the inevitable trials and tribulations of life because they are tethered to Jesus. A key component of having God's Word be alive and dynamic is that the Bible comes into play as a key component to making decisions. When youth learn to make decisions based on truths from the Bible they read and can apply to their lives, they are light years ahead of most adults I know -- even those in the church who aren't equipped to make good decisions because they rarely, if ever, open a Bible.

3) Reading the Bible daily serves as a counter-balance to the world. Kids these days are buffeted by an extraordinary amount of worldly enticements designed to influence their behavior. Media, advertising, technology, even the lure of sports and other passions, can all pull kids away from their walk with Jesus. Reading the Bible serves as the anchor for kids, linking them firmly and steadfastly to their Savior, Jesus Christ. One of my sons was telling a story about a friend of his in college whose life has seen remarkable maturity in faith. The difference? Even though he was a churchgoing lad and participated in his youth group at his church, he said he didn't really care to read the Bible. Since heading off to college, he started getting into God's Word and it's a key component to his new found Christian maturity.

No doubt I can come up with a whole host of other things that daily Bible reading teaches our kids. But one last thought: Name something else that would be a better way for your child to spend his or her time.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spending Thanksgiving In Africa

Shooting some video in Haiti

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving I am scheduled to fly to Nigeria on a two-week missions trip to a place that's made international news for the violence perpetrated by Muslim terrorists targeting Christians. I will be heading to Jos, where the missions organization I work for is operating in a school providing Christ-centered education and computer skills. It will be an honor to meet the educators and students in Jos who have been undeterred in the face of the relentless onslaught of violence fomented by Boko Haram.

We are expecting up to 100 educators to gather for TEN3 workshops at the 2014 Transformational Education -- Nigeria event. Later, I will be traveling to outlying communities where TEN3 hopes to launch computer training outreaches. I will be shooting video, interviewing, writing stories and shooting photographs for TEN3.

Last week I put together a 60-second video for TEN3 using video footage and photographs from two of my missions trips to Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and TEN3 staff photographs from Zambia and Nigeria. For a little flavor of what I'll experience, check out the video here:  TEN3 Missions Video

I would also appreciate your prayers for the trip. Pray for the safety of all of us and that God will be glorified in our time in Nigeria as we bring the hope of Jesus and Christ-centered education to a place in the world that desperately needs it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

When Things Get Crazy Around The S'mores Campfire

Seth rocked the cuteness factor around the campfire.

The other night the Sabos partook of the quintessential American camping experience. That's right, we made a campfire and roasted up some S'mores. In the ditch in our front yard. One of the best things about moving away from our old neighborhood in Gloucester to our new digs in metropolitan Hayes/Gloucester Point/Wicomico (I'm never sure where the outskirts of Hayes or Gloucester Point collide with the inskirts of Wicomico) is that we left the HOA behind. Because I'm pretty sure the HOA cops would have been all over us if we had tried to build a campfire in our ditch in our front yard and made S'mores. Unless maybe we would've shared with them.

Anyway, I'm happy to report that the only things that caught fire other than the wood we used to feed the Sabo campfire were marshmallows. Despite Judah's best intentions. A time or two his flaming 'mallows came dangerously close to flammable and combustible materials -- for example his sisters' hair -- but some quick action by Taylor managed to defuse -- literally -- any potential hair fires. Unfortunately, it seems that some elements of the Sabo family used the excuse of a family campfire to sort of terrorize the neighbors. Let me explain.

Before things got really crazy around the campfire.

The campfire was still ablaze when Julie and I had retired to the comforts of our home, content in the knowledge that the kids were under adult supervision (Taylor, his girlfriend Bethany, Evie, MerriGrace and the like) and having an enjoyable time making tasty campfire treats. Or so we thought. I'm not sure who came up with the brilliant idea, but it seems once the Hershey's chocolate bars and marshmallows all but burned up, or got devoured, someone decided that the appropriate thing to do was to dance crazily around the campfire and chant when someone drove by in their car. Not only that, but they decided collectively that they should go fetch our bunny "Flopsy" from her rabbit hutch and have someone hold her above their head as they danced as if it were some sort of crazed Gloucester ritual.

Apparently there were cars that drove by -- slowly -- when this was going on. One even stopped just down the road. When they related this story to me and after I quit nearly busting a gut from laughter I lectured them about how people already think we're a little bit `off' because we have so many kids. Now this? Now what will people think? Well, being a stand up guy who takes responsibility for his family, I have to say it was the older kids' fault. I also have to say, I wish I could have been there to see it stop the shenanigans. It does explain one thing though. I understand why I've seen beefed up police patrols in our neighborhood.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Four Things That Happen When The Kids Come Home From College

Taylor proclaims his innocence: "What?"

You can count on four things happening in the Sabo house when our kids come home from college for the weekend. The first thing is that food consumption is taken to the next level. This past weekend, Taylor came home from Berea College in Kentucky since they are on fall break and he brought his lovely girlfriend Bethany Hayes. Then Ethan sauntered over on Saturday from Hampden-Sydney College and stayed the night.

With Taylor and Ethan home, that means the Sabo cafeteria is open pretty much 24/7. I planned accordingly and rented a U-Haul truck to make the obligatory grocery run(s) and received a line of credit from the bank and transformed the garage into a walk-in cooler. (Editor's note: This is non-fiction? Did I miss something or did any of those things you just describe actually happen?) Even then, we cut it a little close judging from the look of the fridge on Monday morning. But a family that eats together (albeit in waves of relentless consumption ... picture the Chinese Army attacking our fridge and you get the idea) is a family that bonds together.

The second thing you can count on when the kids come home is that laughter echoes through the house non-stop. The board games come out after dinner and it's pretty much a laughfest from then until the wee hours of the morning. The laughing only stops when there's a pause for a run on the fridge. On Saturday night they played the "Story Game" and Skyped in Claire from Oregon. It was a riot. Julie was in bed and laughing just at all the laughing. I was laughing even though my beloved UCLA Bruins were playing football on TV and they were losing. That means one thing: It was seriously funny. If you are feeling down and blue, you don't need a shrink. Come on over for game night at the House o' Sabo. You may die of laughter, but at least you'll be happy.

Taylor offers his bestest most sincerest sorry for destroying Brenton's foot

The third thing that occurs is the inevitable massive Sabo v. Sabo ultimate soccer match on the Sabo back yard pitch. The best thing about having like, twenty-five kids (Editor's note: Um, twenty-five? Try fourteen. You really need to quit exaggerating my love ... Author's reply: It's only 14? Seriously? Love you my love.) is that you can have a really solid soccer match in the back yard when the kids come from college. You can even have one when the kids don't come from college! It's a very entertaining affair, complete with copious goal-scoring, lots of laughing and the occasionally fractured leg, er "injury" (Editor's note: Technically it's called "diving" ...) that is a hallmark of world class soccer. Brenton was hurt so seriously in the match he had to be hauled off on a cart, but fortunately he was soon able to resume competitive soccer ran right back onto the field as soon as he hit the sideline. In the end, a good time was had by all, particularly the spectators who nearly busted a gut watching the theatrics that occurred during Brenton's "injury."

Brenton is delicately hauled off the field for his potentially fatal soccer injury

The fourth thing that occurs is that Calvary Chapel Gloucester is very blessed by the guest worship team. Taylor, Ethan and Bethany, joined by Madeline, blessed the fellowship with a wonderful time of worship and praise. One of the highlights of the weekends when the kids come home is that music frequently fills the Sabo house. On Saturday in particular, when the group was preparing the worship set, it was wonderful to sit and enjoy hearing them singing praise songs to the Lord. I am a blessed man. We are a blessed family.

Friday, October 3, 2014

When My Daughter Writes Beautiful Essays

Evie Joy

My lovely daughter Evie Joy, or Evie as we all call her, is a talented artist and writer. I love her creativity and her passion for art and writing. She polished off this college admission essay last night and Julie happened to read it then read it to our family. It is wonderful. It brought tears to her mama's eyes. I hope you enjoy it and are as blessed as much as we were. I love you Evie!

I always sit in the front row, usually one or more of my sisters are with me. There are always a multitude of sounds: a rich voice pouring out words read from a worn, tearing notebook, two little newborns cooing or crying gently in the back, faraway laughter and happy shouting that lands faintly on all our ears, sometimes I hear a gentle laughter bubbling forth from us, the audience, sometimes murmurs of agreement, sometimes there are tears, but most of us don’t really notice these sounds; we are too busy listening to the voice and following along to the ancient words he’s reciting. 
The rows are sparse, there are not many people on a given day, but we are clustered together, leaning in to one another to whisper our thoughts or scrawl little notes in the margins of each other’s Bibles. There are some people who wear dresses or dress shirts with ties, some people might wear a dressy-casual attire, there are a few who come in jeans and t-shirts, but there are no cliques among us. Looking out at us, one could see us in an array of colors of diversity, we all are starkly unique from the rest. There are large families that sit together, single moms with a few children in tow, young families that have a baby or two with them, young adults that cluster near each other, and excited middle schoolers that have just graduated from “little kid class.”  We are an informal group; we are not afraid to poke good fun at each other, we are not afraid to laugh at ourselves. 
The man is at the podium, most days in khakis with a button-up shirt. He usually wears a smile that can easily turn into a smirk whenever he attempts to make a joke. Attempting meaning that he makes a joke, and after a long moment of silence our sound man will play a track of crickets chirping, and then we all laugh. He takes a moment to laugh at himself along with us and returns to the story. I pretend I am immune to his jokes, but you see I find puns funny seemingly against my will. He’ll take time in his sermon to share something from his life that proves, contrary to what we would like to believe, that pastors deal with the same struggles we do. He’ll rub his bald head tiredly as he points out a convicting area of scripture, he’ll laugh at the unexpected triumph a character in the story had. The man at the podium is my dad, and he stands there every sunday morning reading and teaching from his Bible. I lost track of how many times he’s bought a new Bible because his has fallen apart—his favorite pages slipping out, running out of room to write in the margins, and having to duct tape the binding together—and most times I find myself getting lost in the words as well. Whether the teaching is on an Old Testament prophet called to tell Israel their sin or a widow putting her two mites into the offering cup because it’s all she has, the sermon never fails to both convict and encourage me. 
After he is done teaching, my brother steps up to the podium with a guitar in his hand; he is going to lead us in one last song to end the sermon. His voice carries throughout the sanctuary, singing out the words that wash over us as praises to our Savior. His voice is high and happy, filled with a kind of emotion that nobody could be immune to. He often dresses down, almost opposite my dad. At twenty-five he wears t-shirts he’s had since high school from various church camps and simple blue jeans. He is an excellent worship leader and a gifted teacher. He usually closes his eyes and strums the guitar he’s known and loved since middle school and we all stand and worship together, singing out praise songs together. The last song of the service is most often the most meaningful to me because it is after I have heard what God has said to me through my dad, the pastor, and I am ready to start a new week in light of what I had just learned. 
After the service is over we go out into the foyer for coffee and fellowship. Fellowship comes from a Greek word that means communion, contribution, and distribution. We stand together with coffee in our hands as we share about our week, about what God taught us, about how it was encouraging or discouraging or eye-opening or hard. We listen to others share and perhaps we’ll offer advice or encouragement. I have seen many people prayed over during fellowship, sometimes I’m in the group praying and sometimes I’m the one being prayed over. We laugh together, we cry together, we might share deep things, we might share light things, but we are always there for each other. We commune together, we contribute to each other’s lives, we distribute our thoughts. We are a church, but we are also a family.
I am close to everyone that goes to my church, the older adults are like my grandparents, the middling adults are like my aunts and uncles, the young adults are my brothers and sisters, and the young children running around are my nieces and nephews or my little brothers and sisters. I feel comfortable enough to share the hard things I’m going through and I love to praise and rejoice with my family. I believe that church is about people coming together to praise God, read the Bible and hear the pastor’s teaching, and fellowship together. I feel as though my church fulfills all of these, and church is the place I always feel the most comfortable.

I am the most content at church because it is full of people who care for me and who I care for, it is a place of learning and growing, and it is full of God. As soon as I walk into that building I feel God’s presence as if he was there with us, sitting next to me as we begin worship, lending a comforting shoulder as I cry about the struggles in my life, there with us as we pray for one another, standing amongst us as we share with one another. I can’t imagine going many sundays together without once going to church. I hear the Word of God and it teaches me, I commune with my fellow believers and it encourages me, I worship God in song and it blesses me. Every sunday feels like a family reunion. My church is like my home to me, and I find that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fighting Ebola Empty-Handed And A World Away

Imagine a world where you can't leave your house because death lurks outside the door. Imagine a world where the body of your neighbor rots in the stifling heat and gathers flies inside her door and no one comes to take it away for a proper burial because surely they would die as well. It's hard to imagine because we can't. It's virtually impossible for us in America to take our mind to a place where life is truly but a vapor, a visible wisp of matter that can be extinguished seemingly in an instant.

This is life across a wide swath of West Africa, where the ebola virus has brought death to the doors of thousands of families in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. We've all read or heard the reports of ebola through media, with the latest alarming news that more than 1 million people could be afflicted with the virus by early next year. My personal knowledge of ebola comes through Rev. Samuel Kargbo, a minister in Sierra Leone who we have been working with in TEN3 (I am communications manager for the Transformational Education Network, or TEN3) to establish one of our computer training outreach classes at his school. Those plans have been put on hold as the ebola crisis deepens in Sierra Leone.

Last week, I received an email from Rev. Kargbo, who thanked me for praying for him and his family. It is a very terrible thing to see neighbors around you dying from a disease, he wrote. So far, he has lost three close relatives who live nearby. There are many dead bodies lying in houses -- four, more or less, in some houses, he wrote.

Rev. Kargbo continues: "The sad thing that has happened is this: since as I told you last the government could not meet the needs of the affected cases, quarantined families, the wife of my relative who died yesterday, his 22-month-old daughter, and two ward children have left the house without being quarantined. Who knows what may happen to the people they come in contact with? We pray that they never contracted the virus, but if they did, then it is obvious they will definitely pass the virus to other people."

Rev. Kargbo describes how the surviving relatives scattered to different parts of the city and country the morning of Sept. 23. He also describes what has transpired over the past two weeks. "Five people have died in connection to the same first victim that died on Wednesday, September 10," he writes. "Two of the women are neighbors who took care of the corpse before burial. We called the 117 number that is given to us and the burial team's number but nobody came to bury the first corpse.

"We (my wife and I) have discussed about how we could intervene but we could not because the lady had left the house this morning before we could send food stuff there. We have called her to come back to the house as soon as possible so that we could share from the little that we have. That is what the Bible says is true religion, taking care of the orphans and widows. As stated earlier, due to several factors, the citizens’ needs could not be adequately addressed in this crisis time, except friends and relatives step in to alleviate the suffering and deaths. One corpse that is said to have died four days before the burial team came to collect it and one infected person were collected three days ago close to our house. We do not want to do that but we have restricted the inflow of children into our compound to play. One way that we could be further involved in helping to save lives, especially lives of those relative who have left for the village, the wife and the baby is by assisting them with food items and restrict their movements for three weeks and see if they will report sick. If any one of them reports sick we will guide them going to the hospital for the test to find out if it is ebola. According to the teaching we receive, early detection and early treatment gives hope to the affected victim to survive."

He closes the email by saying he has temporarily closed his school for three weeks to assess the situation. At that point he will reassess the crisis and determine if the school should remain closed. So far, three of his students have fallen ill, Rev. Kargbo wrote. None of them have ebola, however.

I have asked him how I can help but the situation is so dire and chaotic in Sierra Leone that it doesn't appear there's anything I can do. Except pray. This week, my supporting agency for my mission work, Serving In Mission, has called for believers to have a week of prayer for the end of the ebola crisis in West Africa. Remember people such as Rev. Kargbo in your prayers. Remember the countries of West Africa. Remember Psalm 46:1: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."

Monday, September 22, 2014

Faith That Matters In This American Life

Touch the Light

I was driving around Gloucester late last fall on a stormy day and spied this lone tree in a field. I actually stopped in the middle of a busy road and gazed for a few moments. Eventually I parked my car and walked around in a smattering of raindrops before finding the right angle for a photo.

There's just something that draws my eye to this old, gnarled and scarred tree set against the storm clouds and rising above the line of distant woods behind it. It's a lone sentinel in a field, surrounded by farm ground that's planted every spring and harvested in late summer. I'm not sure why it was left standing because it seems that everything else in what was once thick woods was chopped down and cleared away long ago to make way for ground to till and grow crops.

If you spend enough time in ministry you can relate to this tree. If you spend enough time in a relentless pursuit of God perhaps you can relate to this tree. Sometimes it feels as if you stand unprotected and vulnerable. Sometimes you take some blows. You can be buffeted by storms. You can feel alone.

All those things are what drew me to this tree. After all these years in that field and through all the changing seasons and the relentless onslaught of storms, the tree has endured. The tree is still standing. Sure it's beat up and gnarled and when you get up close you can see it's rotting in patches. But I like how, as I gazed at it from the base of a low knoll, the tree rises out of darkness and above the line of trees behind it, seeming to touch the light in the parting dark clouds.

It reminds me of our hope in Jesus. There's things that go on in within this Christian life, in faith, in ministry, that are trying and difficult. There's discouragement and at times despair. I'm reminded it always occurs when my eyes are focused on circumstances. I'm reminded to fix my eyes on Jesus. My hope and faith is in Him. And I'm reminded that in Him I'm never alone.